The Power to Surprise

Surprise makes us smile, listen, watch and even change behavior.

The Power to Surprise

Have you watched baby Kayden experiencing rain for the very first time? What a magical moment. Seeing her so excited about something as simple and fundamental as rain is awesome, right? But, of course, she’s experiencing the look and feel for the first time, and that beautiful surprise makes her aglow with happiness.

Surprise is a powerful emotion.

Surprise makes us smile, listen, watch and even change behavior.

Psychologically, surprise is a response to unexpected stimuli. When routine is disrupted, rules and standards are broken, expectations are violated, and surprise is the outcome.

No wonder that many of us – marketers and communicators across all disciplines – strive to surprise consumers. We constantly seek good strategies and examples to learn how to surprise.

But three things to keep in mind:

A) Individuals become more accustomed to stimuli. If an element is used repeatedly, over time the level of surprise will decrease in intensity. How will Kayden think of her second and third rain experience? And how will she experience rain in a year or two? In 10 years? 20? The same is true for surprise marketing: think of the first flashmob v. all the song and dance that consumers now see every day on their way to work.

B) Surprise can have a positive or negative reaction. Let’s not create harmful surprises. We want consumers to associate our brands with unusual, albeit great, experiences.

C) Big data. Marketers and communicators are looking for certainty and predictability. Data is informative and can make our work more efficient, but big data can also make brands less surprising. Delightful surprises happens when we least expect it and sometimes that is worth a risk.

The world is changing, and no one can afford to do more of the same. If we use the same ideas and techniques as yesterday, we’ll not be able to stand out through the clutter.

Game-changing communications can only be what’s different, what catches us unprepared, what breaks rules and standards.

If we really want to surprise people, we need to show up differently in the way we’re surprising consumers.

Bjoern Hasse serves as an executive director in Health in Edelman’s Frankfurt office and is Global Client Relationship Manager (GCRM) for Novartis.